What is your background, and when did you first come up with the idea of a 6pm to 6am Swim?
I am the full time School Administration Manager of the local primary school, Director: Crescent Aquatic Centre, pool lifeguard, organising committee member of the Lower North Coast Dance Festival. My melanoma journey began when my beautiful daughter was just 10 weeks old. I had a mole on the back of my thigh that I noticed had changed during my pregnancy. I was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma and given a 40–60% chance of survival at 24 years of age. I was a new Mum AND a cancer patient… Our lives were turned upside down. My most extensive surgery was the removal of all the lymph nodes from my left groin where a cluster of tumours were found.
My surgery was part of the 60minutes story that aired in February of 2005, Dying for a Tan, where I was one of 4 patients. A gentleman in his 50’s, a young father at 28, myself at 24 and a 16- year-old boy… I am the only survivor. The creation of my 6to6swim challenge was a quest to help bring further awareness to Australia’s National Cancer. It was a concept I had been contemplating for a few months. I wanted to create something that could allow a lovely community atmosphere with a special cause AND a twist… hence, swimming under moonlight to ensure sun protection between 6pm and 6am. This horrible disease took my beautiful Aunty from us far too soon in March of 2001.
What training went into preparing, and have you always been a lifelong swimmer?
Fitness is part of my everyday routine in one way or another and swimming is a big part of that. I love being in the water and always have really. “Swim Fit” is a very unique type of strength and there are endless benefits for the whole body. Including the mind and soul! “Black Line Therapy” can help in so many ways! Coming into my swim I maintained my weekly squad sessions and added increased distance swim time at the end of each session. I also increased the weights in my strength and conditioning land sessions to ensure shoulder strength and muscle endurance. Daily fitness brings me clarity. It gets the endorphins pumping, brings a natural glow and just makes me feel great – inside and out! In addition to this, there is also a purpose. Every flex of my muscles helps to ensure a healthy flow of the lymphatic fluid and reduce any potential lymphoedema in my left leg.
Tell us about the swim and how it all took place….
My vision was to create an opportunity for a positive event within our community. Families and community members were encouraged to come along and enjoy a poolside picnic, with live music on sunset. The weather conditions were perfect and the atmosphere had a lovely vibe. With the support of my family, friends and community together we raised over $16,500.00 to help further enhance melanoma research. $16, 576.00 to be exact. Many businesses and locals donated to the event so there were fantastic raffles, a surf board to bid on and a guessing competition for how many laps I would end up swimming. To have it come together so beautifully is extremely heart-warming and something I’m really proud of. Upon sunrise I organised for a poolside bbq that gave families the opportunity to enjoy breakfast by the pool and this was supported greatly also. The colours in the sky that morning were beautiful.
What kind of support from your loved ones was most important for you?
The support I have received for the event has been so lovely. Their positivity and encouragement mean so much. I really feel very fortunate to have so many beautiful people in my life! This has always been a positive for me during what was such a traumatic time. My family and friends surrounded me with love and support. Those sorts of situations can really show you who your true family and friends are and also surprise you with new, meaningful connections. I truly believe that their love and support helped us immensely during what was such a horrific time. When you can surround yourself with the right people, powerful things can happen! I’m always very conscious now of the partner of someone who is dealing with a diagnosis. It’s very hard for them also. Obviously, they’re not physically trying to deal with it but emotionally they are so connected and most often just as terrified. I am so grateful for the treatment I received from my specialist at the Melanoma Institute Australia and his team. I feel very fortunate to have a connection with him that goes beyond the surgery where he genuinely cares for my overall health and my family (as I am sure he does for all his patients – that’s just the type of man that he is). He has been so supportive also about my swimming quest from the moment he found out. He thought the unique concept was fantastic. This has meant the world to me. During the swim, I was surrounded by so many of my family, and friends that are just like family. Many cheered me on, danced and some even swam with me during different time slots throughout the night. With each addition to one of the lanes, increased the positive spirit. Some even stayed by the pool the whole night! Wrapped in blankets and pillows on bean bags etc. Many also helped with lap counting and some even phoned in with special messages and check-in’s. All of this really added to keeping the community spirit and kept the important message alive from sunset to sunrise.
How do you think you have inspired your friends to take better care of their skin?
I have received a lot of positive feedback from families and community members. The event has really sparked so many conversations about the importance of skin protection. This really makes me feel good in my heart. From these conversations so many have not just listened but actually acted by booking regular skin checks – not just for themselves but for their whole families – including their children. I have definitely noticed a significant increase with this. This is so encouraging! I feel this in turn will hopefully create (and maintain) a new habit of skin awareness. Early detection really is the key message. My squad/training friends have expressed how much they appreciate my continual, but gentle, narrative of communicating the importance of skin protection: “Keeping it on their radar.” I have also given many a better understanding of correct sunscreen application and time frames etc. Many students, junior squad members and friends have indicated that they have definitely become more conscious of the “peak times” during the day and expressing how they no longer feel comfortable being out during those times and acknowledging the dangers. I train early mornings and late afternoons. My aim has always been to encourage increasing that conscious thought of being sun safe. Of being aware of your skin. I also really try and promote that protecting your skin is cooler than not with many Primary and Secondary students: minimal unprotected UV exposure during the peak times of the day, standing in the shade when possible, carrying something that can cover your shoulders etc when out and about. Ensuring you have a hat handy. A sun safe trip to the beach for me is: 50+ sunscreen – applied as per recommendations, rashie, hat, sunnies, dry off in the shade…. It really isn’t difficult to do! Plus, there are many beautiful swim wear options that allow this to happen with style. I think it’s fantastic! However, it really is disappointing how many brands/labels still advertise their items in a way that encourages sun baking. There is also so many times I still hear many promoting or saying things like “he/she looks so lovely and tanned”…. This really disappoints me as the colour of their skin isn’t what makes a person lovely… In my opinion, they must look lovely because they are lovely!
What’s next for you with all your amazing advocacy work?
I will continue to maintain my health and fitness every day because it makes me feel good to feel strong and healthy. Having felt so weak around my diagnosis and surgery etc is something I never want to feel again. My ‘pilot’ challenge has certainly gained the potential for growth and perhaps become an annual event. I’m so proud. I’m excited about the opportunities it has created. I will continue to help the Melanoma Institute of Australia (MIA) as an ambassador and a proud member of the MIA’s Speaker Hub by sharing my story and through other radio and media opportunities. I will continue with the narrative for sun safety and the importance of having a skin check. I hope to increase the Sun Safe Education workshops in Schools with Primary and Secondary students. I’m looking forward to continue liaising with the corporate and community partnerships team of the MIA and assisting with any future partnerships if possible. After the success of my 6to6swim shirts, I also have some new ideas and designs for further merchandise. Each sale of my $35 shirt donated $10 to the Melanoma Institute Australia. My enthusiasm is endless to help bring zero deaths from this terrible disease.